Alaska King Eider Hunting Is All About Getting There

The hardest part was getting there.  We arrived to St. Paul Island at 2:30 a.m. (that's 5:30 a.m. at-home time). It was 12 hours later than expected.  My clothes and guns made it. Those of outdoor writer, Brian Lynn, did not until a day or so before we left. He survived comfortably thanks in no small part to modern-day Columbia Omniheat technology.

The wind howled with gusts up to 50.  St. Paul Island averages about 25 mph.  The lowest wind-chill I can remember was minus 11 F.  Wetness: spray over the bow of the boat; rogue waves unpredictably coming from nowhere, dousing from head to toe when hunting the ice-encased, rocky points.  Wet stuff turned to ice quickly on St. Paul.  That was a good thing.  It didn’t drip for too long!

Everyone in camp shot trophy king eiders.  Most achieved non-resident season limit of 4 king eiders.   All clients this season did equally as well, underscoring that this Alaska king eider hunting package remains the most practical place in the world to successfully hunt king eiders.  One very lucky hunter shot the 10th-ever banded king eider ever reported. (Watch Video: Trevor Peterson describes collecting his banded king eider).  

Due to horrific northeast winds, our group shot mostly from points. Until the snow had melted sufficiently, getting there required a 4-5 mile ATV ride after we'd parked the truck as far as we could drive it. 

King eiders, harlequins, and oldsquaws.  Sea ducks hug the water, staying behind waves to mitigate wind drag.  Ideal wind for hunting points are gale force blowing directly towards the shoreline and awaiting hunters - it pushes some of them near or over the bank.  The rest are seen parading in flocks about a hundred yards or more distant.  The single day that the winds subsided sufficiently for us to safely take to the water in force, we camp hunters bagged 10 kings.   Our boat also scored 2 pacific common eiders, juvies though they were, as welcomed bonuses. Scratch them off the list until I can return for some serious Pacific eider hunting in Cold Bay.

One afternoon we busted through daunting 5-to 6-foot breakers at the west-side launch and finally hunted "The Slick." We boated upwind of rafted long-tailed ducks (oldsquaws), drifted into them (hidden, in part, by the huge swells).  The scene resembles a swarm of bees near a kicked hive with ducks circling the boat, returning greedily to the slick.  We took turns picking long-tailed drakes, repeating as needed until we had filled our limits.  It was an enjoyable half-hour.  And wouldn't you know it - king eiders like that area, too. South of The Slick and nearer the wave-churning area colloquially known as The Washing Machine, Brian and I each picked up our final drake king of the trip that afternoon.

Recovering downed birds can be an adventure.  At least for hunters unaccustomed to extreme sea duck hunting adventures.  From the boat, we motored up and deftly plucked them from the cobalt-colored water with rubber-gloved hands.  From the shore, things got trickier.  The surf brings them in. Imagine scrambling down those icy rocks, reaching into the surf that gets mid-thigh deep and grabbing one. The guide-staff were pros in these regards. On Sea Lion Neck, a rock-studded protuberance south of Northeast Point, there was a span of about 50 yards outside of which felled bird recovery was unlikely.

For oldsquaws and harlequins, 1.25 ounce steel 3s and hevishot 6s worked perfectly.  Hevishot 4s are ideal for the eiders.  The Battleaxe Browning Two-tube (Citori), chambers 3.5-inch rounds, and size 2 steel and hevishot seemed to hold a superior pattern in the St. Paul winds.  I once read that the tradition of Indian shikars demanded one-shot kills for the noble Royal Bengal Tiger.  In hunting Alaska king eiders, the analogy seems apropos: they're a pelagic species that are not relatively plentiful where humanity can actually access them near shore, at great peril and discomfort nonetheless. You have got to play for keeps; to assume that each opportunity at a nice drake king eider may be your last or only. Go under-gunned for neither Bengal Tigers nor King Eiders.

From boats, the strategy is to troll a tail-line rigged with over-sized, hand-fashioned, burlap-wrapped foam king eider decoys.  Birds from a distance will toll into the decoys, but this method is also like spotting for birds while saltwater fishing – we’d actively look for birds while trolling the water.  From the upwind side of rafted birds, we'd then idle and drift.  Kings and oldsquaws, especially, will often pass right over the decoys during their departure, easily within range.

Petite, new-denim-colored harlequins prefer close proximity to rocky shorelines.  It's a daunting task to hang over the bow and scoop one up in between waves crashing the shore.  They were very abundant while hunting Alaska king eiders at St. Paul Island for hunters so inclined.

A sky-blue crown frames a prominently large knob as bright as sun-ripened citrus: king eiders are beautiful and certainly among the most exquisite crown jewels of waterfowl collections.  But I choose first and foremost to collect experiences.  To have experienced all that duck hunting has to offer entails a week of Alaska king eider hunting.  It is cold.  It is wet. It is windy.  It is true King Eider ambiance.  The real challenge is getting there - not necessarily closer to trophy king eiders, but nearer to a state of mind whereby the pursuit of king eiders is not insanity.  It becomes instead a dedication to an ideal.  In these regards, maybe king eiders trophies are mere reminders of our having finally gotten there.

The ice flow was a scant 10 miles beyond St. Paul Island’s Northeast Point when we left. Locals say they'll be iced in until spring.  Within a few weeks they will be walking miles out over the area we boated to hunt seals and eiders that will congregate in small openings. Am glad to be here.  At home.

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